Historic finals highlight start of NHRA Countdown

(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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The NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship got off to a historic start in the final round of Sunday’s Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders earned her third straight victory and 19th of her career to pass legendary driver Shirley Muldowney and move into second on the NHRA all-time wins list for a female driver. Angelle Sampey is No. 1 with 41 career triumphs.

Enders relied on having one of the best reaction times in the sport to defeat the faster car of Vincent Nobile in the final round. In so doing, Enders took a commanding lead in the Pro Stock standings as she pursues a second consecutive championship.

“This is pretty incredible; it’s pretty surreal,” Enders said. “I feel like I’m in a dream. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a great group of guys. We have fun racing together. When I get in that car and close the door, there is not one single doubt that the car is prepared as well as it can be. It’s just up to me to drive it right.”

In Top Fuel, veteran racers Antron Brown and J.R. Todd became the first African-American drivers to meet in an NHRA final round.

Brown (3.832 seconds at 311.56 mph) rolled to his fifth win of 2015, his 36th career win in Top Fuel and also took the points lead following the first race in the six-race Countdown.

Todd, who was driving a special car honoring rock music legend’s Jimi Hendrix Foundation, ran 4.063 seconds at 286.32 mph.

In 2006, Todd became the first African-American driver to win a race in the Mello Yello Series. In 2012, Brown became the NHRA’s first black world champion and the first in a major U.S. auto racing series.

“It’s pretty awesome when you look at that,” Brown said. “J.R. has been racing longer in Top Fuel than I have.

“You never think about things like that. We’ve always talked about (racing each other) in the final one day. We both threw down on the tree and it was a great race. It just shows you what this NHRA sport is about.

“When I was a kid I got to come to this sport and was able to see guys like Big Daddy (Don Garlits) and Kenny Bernstein. It gave me that ray of hope because I could see what they’re doing because of all the access this sport offers. To be here racing in this sport so long, it is just a dream.”

In Funny Car, Del Worsham (4.086 seconds at 307.16 mph) earned his first win of 2015 and the 27th of his career, defeating Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.119 at 300.93). Worsham also takes the Funny Car points lead.

“Funny Car is extremely competitive right now,” Worsham said. “These are the races we are going to need to win if we’re going to win the championship.”

The biggest upset of the day overall came in the first round of Funny Car eliminations. Jack Beckman, who had been the hottest driver in the sport the last month-plus, was upset by Courtney Force, who failed to make the Countdown and is now in a position to play the role of spoiler to Countdown contestants like Beckman.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending series champ Andrew Hines (6.880 seconds at 195.11 mph) outran Matt Smith (6.910 at 192.49) to earn his 40th career PSM win and his third career win at zMAX Dragway.

“I’m not quite certain why, but zMax Dragway has been kind to me,” Hines said.

With five races remaining in the season, the Countdown to the Championship moves into the second round next weekend with the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.


TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown; 2.  J.R. Todd; 3.  Leah Pritchett; 4.  Tony Schumacher; 5.  Doug Kalitta; 6. Clay Millican; 7.  Larry Dixon; 8.  Steve Torrence; 9.  Richie Crampton; 10.  Dave Connolly; 11. Pat Dakin; 12.  Chris Karamesines; 13.  Terry McMillen; 14.  Brittany Force; 15.  Shawn Langdon.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Del Worsham; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3.  John Force; 4.  Alexis DeJoria; 5.  Ron Capps; 6. Courtney Force; 7.  Shane Westerfield; 8.  Matt Hagan; 9.  Robert Hight; 10.  Cruz Pedregon; 11. Bob Gilbertson; 12.  Tony Pedregon; 13.  John Hale; 14.  Tim Wilkerson; 15.  Jack Beckman; 16. Dave Richards.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Erica Enders; 2.  Vincent Nobile; 3.  Allen Johnson; 4.  Larry Morgan; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6. Chris McGaha; 7.  Shane Gray; 8.  Bo Butner; 9.  Jason Line; 10.  Jonathan Gray; 11.  Kenny Delco; 12.  V. Gaines; 13.  John Gaydosh Jr; 14.  Wally Stroupe; 15.  Alex Laughlin; 16.  Drew Skillman.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Matt Smith; 3.  Jerry Savoie; 4.  LE Tonglet; 5.  Steve Johnson; 6.  Eddie Krawiec; 7.  Angelle Sampey; 8.  Redell Harris; 9.  Chip Ellis; 10.  Karen Stoffer; 11.  Hector Arana Jr; 12.  Chaz Kennedy; 13.  Shawn Gann; 14.  Jim Underdahl; 15.  Angie Smith; 16.  Hector Arana.


Top Fuel: Antron Brown, 3.832 seconds, 311.56 mph  def. J.R. Todd, 4.063 seconds, 286.32 mph.

Funny Car: Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.086, 307.16  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.119, 300.93.

Pro Stock: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.581, 210.97  def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.575, 211.13.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.880, 195.11  def. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.910, 192.49.


TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.851, 322.11 def. Dave Connolly, foul; Leah Pritchett, 3.814, 318.09 def. Pat Dakin, 4.149, 232.79; Clay Millican, 5.882, 106.37 was unopposed; Tony Schumacher, 3.844, 321.19 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.452, 188.04; Larry Dixon, 5.174, 262.54 def. Brittany Force, 5.327, 131.02; Antron Brown, 3.849, 312.64 def. Terry McMillen, 4.739, 148.46; J.R. Todd, 4.516, 228.11 def. Shawn Langdon, 6.111, 138.36; Steve Torrence, 3.887, 312.21 def. Richie Crampton, 3.895, 310.13;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.823, 314.90 def. Torrence, broke; Schumacher, 3.865, 318.92 def. Kalitta, 3.998, 298.54; Pritchett, 4.095, 271.68 def. Dixon, 4.147, 241.71; Todd, 3.929, 298.21 def. Millican, 4.073, 261.93;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.853, 311.85 def. Schumacher, 10.556, 72.86; Todd, 3.848, 312.21 def. Pritchett, 3.878, 309.49;

FINAL — Brown, 3.832, 311.56 def. Todd, 4.063, 286.32.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.107, 301.94 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 8.049, 97.48; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.120, 304.94 def. Dave Richards, Toyota Solara, 11.309, 79.78; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.338, 303.71 def. Bob Gilbertson, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.306, 150.92; Ron Capps, Charger, 5.887, 276.29 def. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 6.162, 190.11; Shane Westerfield, Charger, 4.269, 252.95 def. Robert Hight, Chey Camaro, 4.371, 277.20; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.266, 265.06 def. John Hale, Charger, 6.201, 109.58; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.086, 305.63 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 9.391, 58.24; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.119, 303.78 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.965, 158.17;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 4.095, 302.08 def. C. Force, 6.139, 146.88; DeJoria, 4.123, 305.49 def. Westerfield, 6.285, 110.99; Worsham, 4.235, 290.69 def. Hagan, 7.997, 98.52; J. Force, 4.143, 305.49 def. Capps, 4.209, 275.06;

SEMIFINALS — Worsham, 4.138, 297.29 def. J. Force, 4.148, 303.03; Johnson Jr., 4.118, 299.33 def. DeJoria, 11.537, 82.99;

FINAL — Worsham, 4.086, 307.16 def. Johnson Jr., 4.119, 300.93.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.620, 210.44 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, foul; Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.602, 210.05 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.564, 211.03; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.583, 210.05 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.602, 209.46; Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.586, 211.23 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 15.847, 53.95; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.568, 210.97 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.704, 207.24; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.545, 211.96 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 6.888, 200.41; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.565, 211.10 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.645, 209.33; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.578, 211.10 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.640, 208.52;

QUARTERFINALS — Morgan, 8.170, 188.25 def. S. Gray, 8.236, 180.33; Johnson, 6.626, 210.28 def. Butner, 13.477, 65.32; Enders, 6.588, 210.67 def. McGaha, 6.620, 210.18; Nobile, 6.611, 210.05 def. Anderson, 6.587, 211.63;

SEMIFINALS — Nobile, 6.599, 210.28 def. Morgan, 6.641, 209.30; Enders, 6.586, 210.31 def. Johnson, 6.611, 209.59;

FINAL — Enders, 6.581, 210.97 def. Nobile, 6.575, 211.13.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.864, 196.02 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.995, 191.32; Redell Harris, Buell, 6.982, 191.40 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.926, 194.24; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.927, 192.58 def. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.917, 194.10; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.880, 194.97 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.000, 194.46; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.900, 193.90 def. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.988, 190.65; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.947, 193.02 def. Hector Arana, Buell, 7.027, 193.52; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.914, 193.68 def. Angie Smith, foul; Matt Smith, 6.924, 191.43 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.934, 194.16;

QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.872, 195.56 def. Sampey, 6.973, 190.97; M. Smith, 6.918, 192.52 def. Harris, 6.990, 191.08; Hines, 6.888, 194.86 def. Johnson, 6.920, 193.63; Tonglet, 6.922, 195.08 def. Krawiec, 6.920, 194.58;

SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.928, 193.10 def. Savoie, foul; M. Smith, 6.961, 189.68 def. Tonglet, 7.145, 162.96;

FINAL — Hines, 6.880, 195.11 def. M. Smith, 6.910, 192.49.


Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,199; 2.  Tony Schumacher, 2,190; 3.  Larry Dixon, 2,117; 4.  J.R. Todd, 2,114; 5.  Richie Crampton, 2,101; 6.  (tie) Brittany Force, 2,082; Doug Kalitta, 2,082; 8.  Shawn Langdon, 2,073; 9.  Steve Torrence, 2,069; 10.  Dave Connolly, 2,035.

Funny Car: 1.  Del Worsham, 2,181; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,175; 3.  Jack Beckman, 2,147; 4.  Matt Hagan, 2,133; 5.  John Force, 2,125; 6.  Ron Capps, 2,100; 7.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,071; 8.  Robert Hight, 2,067; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,055; 10.  Cruz Pedregon, 2,042.

Pro Stock: 1.  Erica Enders, 2,231; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,148; 3.  Chris McGaha, 2,127; 4.  Allen Johnson, 2,122; 5.  Larry Morgan, 2,114; 6.  Vincent Nobile, 2,103; 7.  Jason Line, 2,093; 8.  Shane Gray, 2,085; 9.  Drew Skillman, 2,053; 10.  Jonathan Gray, 2,032.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,193; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,173; 3.  Jerry Savoie, 2,141; 4.  Matt Smith, 2,136; 5.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,112; 6.  Karen Stoffer, 2,089; 7.  Jim Underdahl, 2,062; 8.  Chip Ellis, 2,053; 9.  Hector Arana, 2,042; 10.  Scotty Pollacheck, 2,010.

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Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah,  good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”